Depending on how he's used, Kealoha Pilares could be one of the most intriguing offensive weapons for the Panthers this season. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you know that the DNC (Democratic National Convention) has descended on Charlotte, along with the thousands of reporters, visitors, and ancillary organizers, all of whom make a huge event like this tick. The wake caused by the convention caused the Carolina Panthers to leave Charlotte early, arriving in Tampa Bay yesterday. As if intended to write story lines for lazy writers, the team with blue jerseys leaves the DNC host city, to arrive in Tampa, the RNC host city to play the team with red jerseys, but this move has a more far reaching effect, and one that could pay dividends for the Panthers.
It's almost comedic how close bedfellows the Carolina Panthers and IMG academy have become over the last two years. Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly spent significant time there, a large percentage of the Panthers UDFA's worked out at IMG, former Panthers QB Chris Weinke is a QB coach there, and Carolina head scout Ken Dorsey left IMG to accept a position with the Panthers. So when it came to find a place for the Panthers to practice without the prying eyes of the Buccaneers, why not head to IMG in Brandenton, a mere stone's throw from Tampa?
ESPN can continue to harp on New York's purported 'Tim Tebow formation' like it's the Lindbergh baby, but the reality is that all NFL teams are guarding their playbooks this time of year like they're Fort Knox. Preseason gave us a sense for the baseline talent of the players running standard, boring schemes, but it's not until we see the book opened up that we truly get a sense for how a team will look.
More after the jump
To understand how these IMG practices are taking place is to understand how NFL (and more specifically Panthers) workouts are organized. Ostensibly there are four kinds of practices: One which is open to everyone, which you'll never see during a regular season, the second is a practice where the press is allowed to observe and freely report what they see, the third is one which reporters can watch, but who have agreed not to write about specific details (these are fairly common), and the last is one which is completely closed to the media, allowing access only after the practice has concluded. Last year the Panthers made the move to close their practices entirely while Ron Rivera and co. installed their schemes, and it remains to be seen what will happen in 2012.
The workouts at IMG are completely closed. No press, no coverage, we have absolutely no clue what the Carolina Panthers are working on. It would be foolish to assume they're installing new packages this week, but it's wholly likely they're working on specific looks unique to the Buccaneers. In training camp we saw a Wildcat package that featured Kealoha Pilares at QB, with Cam Newton in at RB– there's no telling what other variations the Panthers could have been developing over the last few weeks.
Moreover, being at IMG with five days of preparation separates the Panthers from not only the madness of the DNC, but the pressures of Charlotte in general. Expectations are high this season, and Ryan Kalil's ad certainly didn't diffuse these expectations. Sports radio, general chatter, and hope is springing eternal, and while that fan support is much needed, it can also serve to place pressure on a young team.
Make no mistake– this is one of the most important games for the Panthers this season. The start to the season is brutal for Carolina, and they have to get this win under their belt. They enter Tampa relatively injury free, and in a situation where they can get the better of the young Buccaneers at their most vulnerable. Greg Schiano will get his system installed in time, and when he does it will cause fits for the Panthers until they solidify their defensive line. This week at IMG will ensure heads are clear, and bodies are prepared for Sunday's game; football will officially be back for Panthers fans in just a few days.